Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mini-Post: The Visitor

(not for arachnophobes)

So I went to this conference over the weekend, and I definitely want to talk about that, but first I have to tell you about something that happened this morning.  I'm at the pool, right, and I'm swimming, right, and I pull up at the other end of my lane to, I dunno, change fins or something, and there on the lane line is a big creepy bug.

You know what lane lines are, right? They're made up of numerous plastic circles and they stretch across the lane, dividing it from the next lane and breaking up any waves that form, right?  Well, there's this bug, sitting on top of the lane line like he owns it.  Now, I don't like creepy bugs, and I definitely don't want one in the water with me, and it's bound to end up in the water if it's sitting on the lane line.  So I try to get it onto my kickboard so I can flick it away toward the Aquatics Office, where there's a handy drain and some plants and stuff where a creepy bug will probably be fine.

Swim paddle
It will not cooperate. Every time I try to get it onto the kickboard, it goes to hide between two of the plastic circles.  So finally I swim down to the other end of the pool, grab one of my paddles and swim
back.  Aha, now I have a scoop-like thing that I can use to push this guy onto the kickboard.  But he still doesn't want to go.  He crawls down the other side of the lane line.  Then he crawls between two of the plastic circles. Then, finally, he climbs on top of the lane line and cusses me out.

Well, that's what it looks like he's doing, anyway.  He's waving his forelegs and carrying on.  And at this point I lose my temper. I say, "Look.  If you sit here, you're going to get hit by a wave sooner or later, and you're going to end up on the bottom of the pool and you're going to die.  And I don't want you in the water with me, because you might end up on my head or something and then I'll have apoplexy and maybe stroke out.  So if you would please get up on this fucking kickboard, right now, I'll get you out of here and then we'll both be happy.  Okay?"

(This must have been great for my fellow swim team denizens. "Hey, Coach, the fat lady's talking to a lane line.")

Anyway, right after I finish this speech, the creepy bug turns around and climbs right up the kickboard.  Thanking God, I take my swim paddle and flick him toward the Aquatics Office.  He rolls across the floor just like a marble.  And I'm thinking "mission accomplished" and I'm about to get back to what I'm doing when suddenly he explodes.

Well, that's what it looks like, anyway.  Lots of little pieces fly in all directions.  But the pieces are--moving.  And they appear to be running after the creepy bug, which is running down the drain.

And then it hits me.  It's not a bug.  It's a spider.  A big spider.  With babies.  Lots and lots of babies.

I can't see very well with my goggles on, you see.  They're not prescription.

So I can't decide which is creepier.  That there might be thousands of baby spiders crawling all around near the pool, or that spiders can apparently understand English.  I mean, I've heard they're fairly intelligent, figure out mazes in laboratories pretty quick and stuff like that, but mastering communication with big beings like me?  I mean, that's pretty amazing.  And creepy.

And I thought, what about when you're in one of those bad situations that you have absolutely no idea how to fix, and it looks completely hopeless, and suddenly something changes and it all turns out okay?  Is that something like a higher being coaxing us up onto a kickboard so it can flick us and our babies out of harm's way? Because if it is, I'll bet that happens all the time.  Only we're not spiders, so we don't know it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

He Had Me At "Motherf___er"

So a little while ago, Joan showed me how to load a "podcast app" on my cell phone.  In case I forgot to tell you this, my new car talks to my cell phone. Put one inside the other and I can talk to people through my stereo speakers and stream music from Pandora.  Which is pretty cool.  But not nearly as cool as having a "podcast app." I've subscribed to a couple of podcasts, including one about history, one about space science and two or three about Buddhism.

I have, most of the time, a half-hour commute to work.  Sometimes a little longer.  I'm seriously annoyed to discover that for ALL THIS TIME I could have been learning stuff on the way to and fro. I have, like, six months of lost time to make up for.  So there's not a minute to lose.  At the moment I'm making my way backwards through what is by far the coolest podcast I've ever discovered.  It's called "The 12-Step Buddhist" and it is absolutely awesome.

It's run by a guy named Darren Littlejohn.  He's a yoga instructor, "life coach" (whatever that is--I have yet to hear a good definition) and a few other things.  He's also a person in recovery who happens to be a Buddhist.  He's Tantric and I'm Tiep Hien but the principles are basically the same, and best of all, he's addressing the fundamental thing, the thing that gets you in the most trouble in 12-step meetings of any stripe when you bring it up: Despite all that talk about defining a Higher Power of your own understanding and that the Twelve Steps should work with any faith or even the lack thereof, the Program is very, very Judeo-Christian.

Really, there's no way of getting around that, no matter what they tell you at meetings.  The Twelve Steps came out of the Oxford Group's Six Steps and those were based on the Bible.  The Oxford Group was a Christian mens' organization and it didn't change much when it morphed into Alcoholics Anonymous.  The people who wrote the Big Book were Christian, and the way the whole Program was set up followed typical Christian principles.  (In fact I was once told that if I didn't become a Christian, immediately, I would never recover. No kidding. I've been told a lot of stupid things by a lot of stupid people.) Sure, technically you can work the Program if you're a Hindu or a Muslim or even a pagan, but all of those faith systems presuppose a belief in some kind of deity, whatever you happen to call it.  Buddhism doesn't presuppose that (and doesn't deny it, either).  If you try to get a straight answer from ten Buddhist monks as to whether or not there's a God, you'll get twenty different answers and 400 deep discussions.  So if you need a Higher Power, and your tradition doesn't really have one, what's a Buddhist to do?

Well, one could do a lot worse than listen to Mr. Littlejohn's podcast or read his book, The Twelve-Step Buddhist.  It came out in 2009 and he's written other books since.  While you're at it, you might wanna pick up Mel Ash's The Zen of Recovery, as well; I think I've mentioned him on this blog before.  But back to Mr. Littlejohn.  The parallels here are a little eerie.  He moved to San Diego fairly recently.  During one of his blog posts, a big airplane flew overhead, and I thought, "I know exactly where he lives.  He lives in Little Italy."  (Or maybe Banker's Hill, but my money's on Little Italy.)  He talked about Overeaters Anonymous for a while in another one of his posts, which was awesome because personally, I think OA gets ignored in the recovery community.  (I mean, it's just food, right?  It's not illegal to possess it and nobody's going to kill you if you deal in it.)  But the thing that really got me was his explanation of what it's like to be enlightened vs. not enlightened.

Paraphrasing very roughly here:  Let's say you're an alcoholic.  You drink, you rage, you yell at your loved ones, you cause a lot of misery.  The next day you wake up, realize that you caused a lot of misery, and you're miserable.  So you drink more, to feel better.  And you rage again and you yell again and then the next day you--yeah.  And this keeps going on and on because you don't realize addiction is a sickness, you don't know that you're sick, you don't grok that your sickness is following a predictable path, and you don't understand that there's even a way to get out of it, much less that you might succeed if you give it a try.  Until somebody comes along and says, "Hey.  You might be an alcoholic.  Why don't you give AA a try?" And maybe you do and maybe you don't but the point is, now you have new information.  Now you know there's a way to end this endless cycle.  Once you know that, you can't go on drinking in ignorance.

Being unenlightened is very similar.  You go about your predictable routine.  You suffer, and you cause suffering.  The next day you realize you've caused suffering and you feel bad, but you don't know how to not cause suffering, so you do it again, and then the next day you feel bad but you don't know how to not cause suffering get the idea.  Until somebody comes along and says, "Hey, there's more than this."  And now you know that there's a way out.  And once you do, you can't keep bumbling mindlessly along...

I'm not explaining this very well.  What I'm saying, though, is I got it.  I mean I really got it.  It went straight past my cerebral cortex and down into my lizard brain.  I've been a Buddhist for a while now, seven or eight years, and nobody's ever explained it to me in a way that made that much sense.  I mean, wham.  Straight to the brain stem.  I almost drove off the freeway in sheer surprise.

Yes, I listen to his podcasts while I'm driving.  I'm not sure what a good idea that is, because he has a pretty soothing voice.  Anyway, if you're interested in Buddhism or the Twelve Steps or both, you might wanna read what Mr. Littlejohn has to say.  If nothing else, he's engaging, funny and profane. One of his blog posts is called, "Get Nondual, Motherfucker."  That pretty much sealed the deal for me right there.